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[Herald Interview] Mahindra Korea eyes partnership in defense biz

With aims to diversify its partnership with South Korean businesses and raise brand awareness, Mahindra & Mahindra tapped Choi In-bom as the second representative of the local office this January.

Mahindra Korea, established in 2013, has so far helped the Mahindra Group clinch major deals with companies here including LG Chem, Posco and Hanwha Qcells, striving to fulfill its purpose as a facilitator between the headquarters in India and Korea.

Continuing to pursue the firm’s mission, Choi is searching for business opportunities for local firms to enter India, while helping Mahindra affiliates expand here.

Representative of Mahindra Korea Choi In-bom (Mahindra Korea)
Representative of Mahindra Korea Choi In-bom (Mahindra Korea)

Hanwha’s defense business, for instance, is at the top of Choi’s list of companies Mahindra Korea is eyeing to partner with.

“In Korea I believe Hanwha is exporting some defense products to the Indian government. And we would like to work with them, perhaps provide some systems and parts,” Choi told The Korea Herald in an interview last week at the Mahindra Korea office in southern Seoul.

“As you know, India is known for its IT capability, and one of the big Mahindra businesses is Tech Mahindra, which is a large IT company. I think we do already have some products and services available.”

He added Mahindra Defense Systems, a subsidiary of Mahindra & Mahindra, has formed partnerships with global defense firms such US top aircraft manufacturer Boeing.

Aside from searching for new partners, Choi’s goal as the representative is to promote Mahindra Korea here, based on his vast experience at multinational companies such as General Electric, General Motors and IBM.

To local business insiders, Mahindra is mostly known as the Indian company that acquired local carmaker SsangYong Motor in 2011.

SsangYong Motor is guaranteed independent management, and Mahindra Korea provides assistance only when needed, the company said.

Mahindra Korea currently covers largely three businesses -- farm equipment, electric bicycles, and helping SsangYong Motor advance into the US market.

According to Choi, farm equipment is an important business for the local unit as well, as the Mahindra Group is looking to foster it as part of a group-wide expansion plan.

Mahindra Korea works with local farm equipment maker Tong Yang Moolsan in an original equipment manufacturer relationship, exporting farm tractors to Mahindra USA.

Tong Yang Moolsan supplies an annual average $100 million worth of tractors to Mahindra USA, which in terms of volume rose from some 5,500 units in 2015 to roughly 11,000 units last year, the company’s figures showed.

Together with local bicycle manufacturer Alton Sports, Mahindra Korea also exports electric bikes to Mahindra’s subsidiary in the US named Genze, and the business is showing signs of a sales boost since last year, the company said.

As for its future plans, Choi is keen on forging deals with local companies, including the country’s telecom giant SK Telecom, paving the way for Mahindra affiliates’ operations here.

Tech Mahindra is among the ones Mahindra Korea is trying to help bolster business here.

Choi, however, predicted a bumpy road ahead due to Korea’s complicated market environment.

“It is a good area because that’s (IT) where the competitiveness of the Indian economy is, in their software power. (Tech Mahindra) would like to do more business here. But it’s not easy, because of the Korean conglomerate structure.” 

By Kim Bo-gyung (